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The disintegration of Iraq: the manufacturing and politicization of sectarianism

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Since the Anglo-American invasion in 2003, Iraqi politics and society have been interpreted through the lens of sectarian division and strife. Iraq under occupation has been beset by sectarian violence; however, contrary to standard belief, this sectarian violence has no significant precedent in Iraqi history, the politicized sectarianism that now dominates Iraq is argued to be the intended result of a deliberate Anglo-American occupation policy that has had at its foundation, the goal to carve Iraq into sectarian enclaves and to engineer a weak, pliable, state. The purpose of this article is thus two-fold: first, this article delineates social folkloric forms of sectarianism in Iraq from the militarized sectarianism that now constitutes Iraqi political culture. This, centred on folk practices, is argued to have been mitigated through a long process of state-building and social secularization. Today's political sectarianism, as reflected in militia activity and religious chauvinism, is presented in terms of Anglo-American occupation strategy, including: the empowering of sectarian militia parties which had no natural constituency in Iraq; the stripping and destruction of Iraq's national symbols; and the imposition of an American-written constitution drained of any national content that only reinforced sectarian division in Iraq. Second, against this backdrop of politicized sectarianism, outposts of genuine Iraqi nationalism are considered, with a particular focus on the populist Sadrist current. This current, an Iraqi national force informed by Islamic notions, represents an uneven but nevertheless genuine resistance movement, who might portend the emergence of further national movements in occupied Iraq.
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Keywords: Iraqi politics; Iraqi society; Mahdi army; Sadr movement; sectarianism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: The University of Calgary. 2: Independent Researcher.

Publication date: February 1, 2009

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  • The International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies is a new peer-reviewed, tri- annual, academic publication devoted to the study of modern Iraq. In recognition of Iraq's increasingly important position on the world stage, the time is right for a new journal dedicated to scholarly engagement with the country.
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